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Introduction to Criminology CRJ 270 Instructor: Jorge Pierrott. 5. Biosocial and Other Contemporary Perspectives. Chapter Objectives. After reading this chapter, students should be able to answer the following questions:

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Introduction to criminology crj 270 instructor jorge pierrott

Introduction to Criminology

CRJ 270

Instructor: Jorge Pierrott

Introduction to criminology crj 270 instructor jorge pierrott


Biosocial and Other Contemporary Perspectives

Chapter objectives

Chapter Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What was the purpose of the Human Genome Project (HGP), and what is its significance for modern biological theories of crime?

  • What role do genetics and heritability play in contemporary explanations for crime?

  • How does brain dysfunction relate to criminality?

  • How do body chemistry theories – including those involving diet, blood sugar levels, environmental contaminants, and hormones – explain crime?

  • What are biosocial theories, and what role does the gender ratio problem play in contemporary criminology?

  • What are the policy implications of modern biological theories of crime?

The human genome project

The Human Genome Project

  • Testing of Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza’s DNA to determine if he possessed any abnormalities.

  • The human genome refers to a complete copy of the entire set of human gene instructions.

    • Genes are made of DNA and carry coded instructions for making everything the body needs.

    • Chromosomes are bundles of genes.

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The human genome project1

The Human Genome Project

  • International research project mapping the human genome.

    • Determine complete chemical sequence of the human DNA

  • HGP sequenced entire genomic sequence of a reference human genome

  • Current focus of genomics

    • Finding variants from reference sequence

The human genome project2

The Human Genome Project

  • Knowledge developed by HGP may have major implications for individuals and society.

  • Genetic knowledge can have significant implications for criminal justice

    • What can we discover from the HGP research?

    • What is it expected to accomplish?

      • Support the development of public policy options related to crime prevention and offender treatment.

Genetics and heritability

Genetics and Heritability

  • Dutch research found male descendants of a “criminal family” had high proportion of violent crime arrests.

    • Researchers H. Hilger Ropers and Han Brunner suggest that because males have only one X chromosome, they are more vulnerable to any defective gene, while women (with two X chromosomes) have a sort of backup system.

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Genetics and heritability1

Genetics and Heritability

  • Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA):

    • Enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline.

    • Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that transmit the flow of electrical impulses.

      • Men with mutated genes do not produce enough of this enzyme.

    • Excess amounts of MAOA linked to aggression.

      • Resulting in uncontrolled urges and ultimately, criminal behavior

Genetics and heritability2

Genetics and Heritability

University of Texas Health Science Center (S.A)

  • Pleasure-seeking gene (Allele or DRD2 A1) may play a role in deviant behavior, addictions, violence.

    • The gene is normally involved in controlling dopamine flow

    • What does it do?

      • Diminishes dopamine function.

      • May lead to people engaging in dopamine-like experiences, such as drinking or using drugs. Or in some cases to violence and/or murder.

Genetics and heritability3

Genetics and Heritability

Researchers – Capsi and Moffitt

  • Heritability linked to callous-unemotional behavior.

    • Can childhood maltreatment lead to a risk factor in adulthood?

  • Genes and environment work together to produce significant antisocial behavior.

    • What was discovered?

      • In some cases, genetic pre-dispositions and their interaction with the surrounding social and physical environments combine to produce delinquency.

Future directions in the study of genes and crime

Future Directions in the Study of Genes and Crime

  • Explanatory power of heritability limited – may apply only to environments existing at the time of a given study

  • If population or environment changes, heritability may change also

  • Genes appear to be both the cause and consequence of our actions – they enable rather than determine human action.

The dysfunctional brain

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Position emission tomography (PET) scans found lower glucose levels in prefrontal cortex of murderers

  • Prefrontal cortex dysfunction may predispose someone to crime rather than being a direct cause of crime

  • Frontal brain hypothesis.

    • A gene defect that leads to a communications breakdown in the brain predisposes people to schizophrenia.

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Introduction to criminology crj 270 instructor jorge pierrott

Figure 5-1 The Human Brain Showing the Prefrontal Cortex and the AmygdalaSource: Schmalleger, Frank J., Criminology. Printed and Electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

The dysfunctional brain1

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Allergic reactions to foods have been linked to violence and homicide.

    • Foods such as milk, citrus fruit, chocolate, corn, wheat and eggs may lead to swelling of the brain and stem.

  • Physical injuries, emotional trauma, disease, longer term exposure to stress can lead to changes in the brain

  • Link between stressors in the social environment and brain structure

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The dysfunctional brain2

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Neuroplasticity

    • Brain can alter its structure or function in response to experience or injury

Body chemistry and criminality

Body Chemistry and Criminality

  • Body chemistry is influenced by factors such as eating habits, vitamin deficiencies, environmental contaminants, and the endocrine system

  • You really ARE what you eat!

Ingested substances and nutrition

Ingested Substances and Nutrition

  • Early research linked excess sugar consumption to crime but the current evidence on the sugar/behavior link is unclear.

  • Dan White – “Twinkie Defense”

    • He murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city Councilman Harvey Milk.

  • This was contradicted in 1994 by the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Ingested substances and nutrition1

Ingested Substances and Nutrition

  • Some food additives (MSG, dyes, artificial flavorings) may be linked to violence

  • Coffee and sugar may trigger antisocial behavior

  • Vitamins, other nutrients may have behavioral impact.

  • Higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids lead to a reduction of hostility.

Environmental pollution

Environmental Pollution

  • Several studies have found a link between industrial and environmental pollution and violent behavior

  • Correlation between juvenile crime and exposure to lead and manganese

  • Prenatal substance exposure may lead to higher rates of conduct disorders, delinquency, psychiatric problems

Hormones and criminality

Hormones and Criminality

  • Testosterone

    • Relationship between high blood levels of testosterone and increased male aggressiveness

    • Effect may be moderated by social environment

    • Small changes in female testosterone levels also linked to personality changes

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Hormones and criminality1

Hormones and Criminality

  • Androgens – male hormones

    • High blood levels linked to aggression in boys but not girls.

    • A study revealed that boys with a higher level of androgens in their blood exhibited the most persistent aggression.

  • Fluctuations in female hormones may also be linked to crime.

    • PMS defense – Christine English was exonerated in a British court with this defense.

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Hormones and criminality2

Hormones and Criminality

  • Serotonin – behavior-regulating chemical

    • Elevated blood levels/lower brain levels linked to violence in men

    • Imbalance between levels of serotonin and dopamine highly associated with psychopathic traits

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Hormones and criminality3

Hormones and Criminality

  • Other hormones implicated in delinquency and poor impulse control include cortisol and T3 (thyroid hormone)

Climate weather and crime

Climate, Weather, and Crime

  • Temperature is the only weather variable consistently related to crime.

  • Researchers Ellen Cohn and James Rotton have found temperature to be related to crimes such as assault, property offenses, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct.

  • Relationship moderated by temporal factors. (Temp, time of day, day of week)

    • Uncomfortably hot and cold temperatures keep people apart.

  • Research findings consistent with routine activities theory

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Climate weather and crime1

Climate, Weather, and Crime

  • Possible link between barometric pressure and violent crime

  • Historical correlation between high temperatures, extreme rainfall patterns, and violence

Introduction to criminology crj 270 instructor jorge pierrott

Figure 5-2 Assault as a Function of TemperatureSource: E . G. Cohn and J. Rotton, “Assault as a Function of Time and Temperature: A Moderator-Variable Time-Series Analysis,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 72 (1997), pp. 1322–1334. Data used with permission.

Biosocial criminology

Biosocial Criminology

  • Crime and Human Nature (1985)

    • Comprehensive theory of crime that included constitutional factors

    • Constitutional factors which contribute to crime. They include:

      • Gender

      • Age

      • Body type

      • Intelligence and

      • Personality

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Biosocial criminology1

Biosocial Criminology

  • Biosocial criminology – Anthony Walsh

    • Biological factors do not operate in an environmental vacuum, environmental factors do not operate in a biological vacuum.

    • Interaction of biology and the social and environmental conditions.

Figure 5 3 selected biological factors recognized by biosocial theory

Figure 5-3 Selected Biological Factors Recognized by Biosocial Theory

Gender differences in criminality

Gender Differences in Criminality

  • Gender ratio problem

    • need for an explanation of the fact that men are more involved in crime than women

  • Early explanations focused on culture and the social environment – lack contemporary validation.

  • Females make up 51% of the population in the U.S., but are arrested for less than 20% of all violent crimes and almost 38% of property crimes.

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Gender differences in criminality1

Gender Differences in Criminality

  • Biosocial criminologists say that if we admit that there is something about gender itself that is responsible for the observed differences, the problem is resolved.

    • Does culture play a role in criminality?

    • Culture has changed, has the proportion of crime committed by women risen?

Evolutionary theory

Evolutionary Theory

  • Evolutionary perspective suggests that behavioral traits are manifestations of multiple genes working independently and synergistically in response to the environment.

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Evolutionary theory1

Evolutionary Theory

  • Evolutionary neuroandrogenic theory

    • Propensity for crime commission evolved as part of the male reproductive strategy

    • A particular neurochemistry, characteristic of males, increases the probability of crime among males relative to females

Policy implications of biological theories

Policy Implications of Biological Theories

  • Steven Pinker claims social scientists unjustly ignore the biological basis of human behavior and replace it with three myths:

    • The blank slate

    • The Noble Savage

    • The Ghost in the Machine

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Policy implications of biological theories1

Policy Implications of Biological Theories

  • No genes for criminal behavior but genes may affect brain functioning and influence chances of learning socially unacceptable behavior patterns

Critique of biological and biosocial theories

Critique of Biological and Biosocial Theories

  • Fail to predict criminality accurately

  • Methodological problems

    • Studies in the area have often been based on small, non-representative samples.

  • Findings difficult to generalize

  • Do not explain regional, temporal variations in crime rates

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Critique of biological and biosocial theories1

Critique of Biological and Biosocial Theories

  • Cannot explain why some crimes are more likely to occur in certain parts of the country, certain types of communities, among members of specific subcultures rather than in others

  • Some biosocial criminologists have been accused of racial and class bias

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